Healing the Racial Divide
By Van Bensett, Life Directions Project Director & Redemptorist Associate
Life Directions’ focus: LIFE Institute with Redemptorist Fr. John Phelps, members of St. Peter Claver Catholic Community and others recently met to discuss healing the racial divide in Detroit. This hope-filled event created time and space for meaningful dialogue across ethnic, racial, religious, generational and gender differences. Joni Scott, a director of religious education and storyteller, introduced the Cube of Love to participants. The Cube of Love is a program to help people concretely live the Gospel message of love. It is an expression of the Gospel-based “art of loving.” This program, created by Focolare founder Chiara Lubich, not only helps to prevent conflict and violence but contributes to a growth in faith, to the building of a more Christian community, and to an ever-greater awareness of the universal family and the needy worldwide.
Life Directions was born out of the issue of violence. In 1973, Detroit was called the “Murder Capital” of the United States. On average one young adult was dying every twelve hours. The founders of Life Directions, Redemptorist Rev. John Phelps, C.Ss.R., Rev. Alex Steinmiller, C.P., Sister Rosalie Esquerra, O.P., and Alex and Judith MacDonald arrived at the intuitive understanding that it was necessary to “get to the cause of the violence.” The dynamic of “Peers Inspiring Peers through Forgiving” was forged through a series of neighborhood discussions directed at determining its root causes with people who were experiencing its effects.
In her introduction to the Cube of Love, Joni Scott explained, “Each side of the Cube is a face of unconditional love. Today, it is our face to each other as we come together to heal the racial divide.” Each table of participants selected one face from the Cube to be their face of unconditional love.
Imam Arif Huskic, welcomed everyone and also gave the invocation, a tearful call for action to protect one million, mostly Muslim, Uyghurs facing genocide in Chinese re-education camps. “Our problem is the silence of the news media. Genocide is happening before our eyes,” he said. “But no one knows! How can we put a stop to it?”
Ike McKinnon, former Detroit Chief of Police, gave his perspective on the racial divide. He shared that when he joined the force: “I was shot at by white police officers three times. Do you hear me! Police officers shooting at another man in blue! Me! Because I was black. But I did not give up on the values of my faith and family: reconciliation, understanding, solidarity, unity and love. I sought them in my professional relationships for the common good of all. I recommend this to everyone. It is the path to heal the racial divide. It builds bridges. The same then as it is now!”
Frank Jackson III, a long-time member of the Life Directions Board of Directors, called upon grandparents and elders to teach those younger than themselves universal and timeless principles. In his career as legal counsel at Blue Cross Blue Shield, he practiced the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win-win; speak first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; and sharpen the saw. “If we teach this to the next generation, we teach responsibility, and we set young people on the path out of poverty. They will become a gift to their future families,” he said.
What the panel shared brought to light grandparents’ concerns, the need to seek healing through timeless wisdom rooted in the value of reconciliation, and the priority of finding common ground. As one of the instructions on the Cube of Love remarked: “Unconditional love reaches its fullness in reciprocal love: when we love we are loved in return. Love generates love. So before acting, ask ‘does this generate love?’ If it does, it will generate healing too.”
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